Psych album of the week: Aphex Twin’s Drukqs (2001)

No other Aphex Twin album has collected such a nuanced and balanced picture of everything that Richard D. James does so well

aphex-twin-drukqs

Aphex Twin's divisive 2001 double-album, Drukqs, is as complete an overview of his sound as can be found in one place. It veers from calm ambient tracks to relentless, multi-layered, electronic madness.

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Cornwall-based electronic-music producer Richard D. James, best known as Aphex Twin, has released albums under a bewildering array of monikers over the course of his career, but his work always features a cornucopia of innovative sounds, textures, and arrangements. 

He consistently demonstrates a musical imagination overflowing with rich timbres and frenetic, envelope-pushing beats that pummel you into submission. Not to mention Cornish song titles that leave you scratching your head.     

His divisive 2001 double-album, Drukqs, is as complete an overview of his sound as can be found in one place. It veers from calm ambient tracks to morose Satie-style piano interludes to what he is most well-known for: relentless, multi-layered, electronic madness.  

Disc 1

Disc 1 opens with “Jynweythek Ylow”, a gentle, percussive analog synth setup for “Vordhosbn”. The latter offers the first taste of Aphex Twin’s trademark ADD beats and chime-y synth layers.  

One of James’s specialties is digitally controlling analog instruments and sounds into performing otherwise impossible patterns and rhythms.  “Omgyjya Switch7” batters the listener with cracking whip sounds, twisted vocal exclamations, metallic clatter, and the expressive goodness of a synth that has been extensively modified to suit its owner’s obsession with microtuning. Like many Aphex Twin tracks, the rhythms twist and turn, madly following their own lysergic logic before fading out with a vibrating twang.

“Gwely Mernans” is a barely-there, Eno-esque track. It’s followed up by the jaunty “Bbydhyonchord” which features an electric piano-like sound playing a looping chord sequence over a rhythm track that brings in every percussion sound in the book. That this foundation manages to sound uncluttered and airy is a credit to James’s arrangement skill and his production chops.  

“Gwarek2” is an unsettling collage of screams, moans, clanking chains, and nauseating, reverberated sonic blooms.  

“Hy A Scullyas Lyf A Dhagrow” uses the same synth patch as “Jynweythek Ylow” before the first disc ends with another piano interlude, “Kesson Dalef”.

Disc 2

Disc 2 continues down the same road as Disc 1: wild, beyond-the-jungle beats and an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-aesthetic leavened by ambient and acoustic interludes.  

“54 Cymru Beats” offers considerably more than merely 54 rhythms. It drills its way through over six minutes of abrasive yet groovy hard-core techno.

“Btoum-Roumada” is a celestial interlude leading into “Lornaderek”. This is a delightful moment with James sharing a phone message left to him by his parents wishing him a happy birthday.

“Meltphace 6” lives up to its title, showcasing a busy sequenced bassline, frantic drum programming and epic multi-layering. About a third of the way through, the beat stops to allow some ambient exploration. Then things kick back into “drill ’n’ bass” land again until the gradual fadeout.

“Taking Control” conjurs up thoughts of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” and Max Headroom with its ’80s MTV vibe.  

“Nanou 2” is a lovely way to end the album with peaceful piano chords playing us out.

Other Aphex Twin album have been more delicate (Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2), more frantic (the Richard D. James Album), or more abrasive (…I Care Because You Do). None, however, have collected such a nuanced and balanced picture of everything Richard D. James does so well. And, at over 100 minutes, Drukqs allows plenty of time for it to take effect.  

Sonic psych-out

2:18 into “54 Cymru Beats” yet another layer appears, this time a marvelous, squelchy acid-house-on-amphetamine bass sequence that promptly makes your head explode.

In his own words

“It sounds really arrogant, but my music’s my favourite music ever. I prefer it to anyone else’s.”  (Richard D. James)

“It always sounds more right to me when it’s detuned. When it’s right in tune, it’s like there’s something slightly off. But at the end of the day, it’s all about frequencies and what they do to you. That’s the real core.”  (Richard D. James)

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